Session 13: Together
1. How do you view church?
- Often times we have a “cruise ship view” of church – it’s all about what we want and how much we are to enjoy and like about the whole experience. However, a better metaphor would be the “battleship” view of church, where the focus is the mission at hand that’s been assigned to the church.
- The devil is on a mission to get you and me; it started in heaven… but what is OUR mission as a church? What is our purpose and commitment?
2. The mission of the church
- Jesus gave us the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) as He left earth; in Romans 12:4-5 the Bible tells us that we are one body with many members, all of which has a different function.
- We are baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3-4), but with Christ as the Head of the church, we are to be baptized into the one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
- Our focus should be on the big picture, and not in majoring in the minors
- It’s sometimes easy to lose the plot and fight for the wrong reasons, like Hiroo Onoda who continued to fight “world war 2” until 1974, twenty five years after the war had officially ended.
- The early church’s mission is to be a pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15) and to preach the gospel to every creature (Colossians 1:21-24) and there was incredible growth and fellowship (Acts 2:41-47)
3. The scattering of the church
- However, in spite of the growth of the church, there was a falling away (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) that came from within (Acts 20:29-30).
- John 10:1-21 describes how the church started as one flock with one Shepherd, but wolves scattered the sheep.
- Revelation 12 paints a picture of how the church (represented by a woman) had to go into hiding as the dragon persecuted her.
- Revelation 6:1-8 is a prophecy that outlines the history of the church.
The White Horse of Purity and Victory (A.D 31 – A.D 100)
- Revelation 6:2 says, “I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” White is a symbol of purity. The rider of the white horse held a bow, wore a victor’s crown, and rode out as a conqueror in the earliest days of the Christian church. The Early Church, with Jesus as its general, marched into the citadels of Satan and conquered. The early church was faithful, even in the face of persecution. In the end, these people overwhelmed even the might of the Roman Empire. Colossians 1:23 makes this incredible statement regarding the success of New Testament Christianity: “the gospel which you heard…was preached to every creature under heaven” (see also Acts 2:40-47, 5:14). This period of apostolic purity and power lasted to about A.D. 100.
The Red Horse of Fierce Persecution (A.D 100 – A.D 313)
- Revelation 6:4 says: “Another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” This period of fierce persecution dates from about A.D. 100 to 313. Satan, seeing the Christian faith conquering hearts and minds, roused pagan emperors to stamp it out. Nero had earlier tried to stamp out Christians, but during this period he persecution intensified. Pliny the Younger considered Christianity a “contagion of superstition”, putting the first major organized persecution in A.D. 112. Decius’ edict in A.D 250, and then followed by that of Diocletian (245-313), saw the cessation of the meetings, destruction of churches, deposition of church leaders and imprisonment. Not only that, believers were burned at the stake, thrown to lions, torn apart on the rack—a great bloody sword was lifted over the church. But remarkably enough, the church kept growing. The world saw Christians willing to die for their faith. And the world took notice. It was an argument hard to ignore.
The Black Horse of Compromise and Corruption (A.D 313 – A.D 538)
- Pagan persecution failed to destroy the Christian church, when Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan in A.D 313. So Satan, changing his strategy, decided to attack it from the inside. Revelation 6:5 says: “I looked, and behold a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand.” If the color white implies purity of faith, black represents corruption of that faith. The rider carries a pair of scales, or balances, picturing the church as “weighed in the balance and found wanting.” The quarts and of wheat and barley denoted famine conditions; for it truly was a famine of the Word of God (Amos 8:11). In this period Satan infiltrated the church. Pagan beliefs and practices crept into the church and were accepted as part of the faith! God’s Word was replaced with more and more tradition. The church became very powerful in the Middle Ages, as powerful as the Roman Empire once had been. It boasted great cathedrals and wielded absolute authority over believers. All kinds of pagans, who’d worshipped Zeus or Caesar before, now wanted to join the Christian church. Unfortunately, many church leaders made the transition easier by allowing the new members to hang onto pagan ideas, images, and customs. The Second Commandment’s clear teaching not to make or bow before images—Exodus 20:4-5—was simply deleted from church teaching.
- Sun worship also had a very strong hold on the people of the Roman Empire. And it didn’t wither away when pagans began calling on the name of Jesus. So church officials, to make sun-worshipers feel more at home in the Christian church, forbade all work on Sunday. What most people don’t realize now is that the seventh day, Saturday, remained the Christian day of worship for some time after Christ’s death. That was the Sabbath for early believers. There is certainly no evidence for the change of the day of worship in the New Testament. Church officials said: After all, Sunday was the day of the Lord’s resurrection. But were pagans who joined the church really worshiping Jesus Christ, the resurrected Lord? Or were they really still worshipping the sun? In the middle of the fifth century, we find Pope Leo I rebuking worshippers at St. Peter’s because they kept turning around and bowing toward the sun before entering the basilica! Mixing pagan customs with Christian teaching greatly weakened the church spiritually.
The Pale Horse of Spiritual Death (A.D 538 – A.D 1500)
- Revelation 6:8 says: “I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” A corpse is riding a pale horse. Compromise has become spiritual death. By A.D. 538, church councils took the place of the Bible and church leaders became substitute messiahs. The Ostrogoths had ceased their siege on Rome, and the Romans could effectively do whatever they pleased. This period is known as the Dark Ages. Stagnation was widespread: the arts didn’t flourish; scholarship and learning were repressed. The church wielded the power of the state. The Inquisition was one horrible example of religion using force to maintain orthodoxy. Other “theology” like indulgences (which came about as the desire by Archbishop Albert’s desire for power and Pope Leo X’s longing for more money to build what is now known as St. Peter’s Cathedral) were introduced. Outwardly the church was splendid and majestic and influential. But inwardly, there was widespread death and decay. This whole panorama of prophecy took 1400 years, from about A.D. 100 to 1500— a long period of decline. In fact, one historian, in Church History, Century II, chapter 2, section 7, says this: “Christianity became an established religion in the Roman Empire and took the place of paganism. Christianity as it existed in the Dark Ages might be termed “baptized paganism”.
- Many wondered: would God’s light of truth ever shine again? Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18: “I will build My church, and gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Error would not triumph forever. God’s truth did indeed rise again, championed by brave men and women.
4. Coming back to the flock
- Jesus has promised that those who hear His voice will come back to the true flock (John 10:11-16)
- The church, built upon the Rock of Salvation in Jesus (Matthew 16:18, Psalm 95:1, Deuteronomy 32:4,15,18) will triumph once again!
- The shining light will shine ever brighter unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4:18); truth will slowly be restored once again!
- They include:
“The Bible and the Bible only”
- Peter Waldo (1140-1218) and the Waldensians in northern Italy and the southern France began to teach and preach from the Bible (it had been prohibited by the Church of the Middle Ages). For them, it was the Bible and the Bible only. The Waldensians were hunted down and severely persecuted for this stand.
The Bible went back into the hands of common people
- John Wycliffe (1328-1384) translated the Bible back into the vernacular (the common language of the people) so they could read it for themselves, instead of having the bishops and priests interpret them. Wycliffe’s followers are known as the Lollards.
Obedience to God, not man.
- John Huss (1369-1415) was an avid student of the Bible, and he had this to say on July 6th 1415 – “Obedience to God is my motto. My mind is chained by the Bible, not obedience to the church, not obedience to priests nor bishops nor prelates”. Huss was burned at the stake for his beliefs; his followers are known as the Hussites.
Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
- Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was a German priest and professor of theology. He read passages like Romans 8:1 (no condemnation in Christ) and Ephesians 2:8,9 and soon came to the obvious Biblical conclusion that salvation comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is not earned by good deeds, and thus challenging the authority of the pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge. Luther’s followers branched out from the “main” church, as well as the Hussites, amongst others, and formed the Lutheran church. This pattern would continue as more truth was found, and more branches (denominations, in a sense) began to be formed.
Unbiblical Church practices
- Uldrich Zwingli (1484-1531), who actually served the pope as a parish priest and chaplain eventually spoke out against the Church and the unbiblical practices within. In 1532, Zwingli prepared the Sixty-seven Articles, which emphasized salvation by faith, the authority of the Bible, the headship of Christ in the church, and the right of clerical marriage. On top of that, they also condemned unscriptural Roman practices, eliminating fees for baptisms and burials and the burning of images and relics. Zwingli believed that ultimate authority resided in the Christian community as opposed to that of the papal office.
Christian Growth and the importance of prayer and Bible Study
- John Calvin (1509-1564) was an influential French theologian and pastor who made many contributions to the Reformation. One of his most key thoughts was the importance of Christian growth – the importance of prayer and Bible study and letting God sanctify you inside, themes which are evident throughout the entire Scripture (see for example 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Psalm 119:105, Galatians 2:20, John 17:17-19). However, like many of his predecessors, he didn’t have all truth and he himself still taught many errors. The followers who rallied about Calvin formed the Reformed and Presbyterian church.
- The Anabaptists, which had roots in men like Conrad Grebel (1498-1526) and Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), taught that infant baptism was unscriptural. They were in fact the first ones to practice believer’s baptism, as is evident from the Scripture. The Anabaptists of today are the Mennonites and the Amish. Other leaders like John Smyth (1565-1612) began practicing believer’s baptism, and thus founded the first Baptist churches. While the first Baptist churches practiced baptism by pouring, they very quickly realized that baptism, as it was done in the Bible, was supposed to be by immersion (Mark 1:9.10, Acts 8:38).
Call back to holiness
- John (1703-1791) and Charles (1707-1788) Wesley were part of the Anglican church, but they realized that the life of a Christian meant a life of holiness in service as well as lifestyle. They founded the “Holiness Club” in Oxford and emphasized the importance of praying and reading the Bible. However, they also visited prisons and gave money to the poor, realized Jesus’ commands to care for the needy (Matthew 25:35-36). Their methodical approach to everything earned them the name “Methodists”, upon which the church of the same name was found.
The imminent return of Jesus
- William Miller (1782 – 1849) was an American Baptist preacher who studied the prophecies of Daniel 2,7,8 and 9 and concluded with the likes of Samuel Snow (1806-1870) that Jesus was going to return on Oct 22nd 1844, which became known as the Great Disappointment. While his predictions were incorrect (in his ardent zeal Miller had missed passages like Matthew 24:36 – “…no man knows the day or the hour…”), he nevertheless imparted a great truth and set off the Millerite, and the eventually the Adventist movement and church.
- Individuals such as Andreas Fisher in Slovakia, John James in England and Oswald Glait in Eastern Europe had already been keeping the Sabbath, but it was around and after the Great Disappointment of 1844 time that Adventists like Joseph Bates and Rachel Oakes took the entire message seriously to heart. Their beliefs in the Sabbath and the Second Coming, along with the likes of James and Ellen White led to the founding of the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Ultimately, the church can be described as not merely another denomination, but a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Sabbath-keeping, Advent-anticipating group of people who hear the voice of Jesus, and will return to the flock in preparation of His soon coming.
We are however, supposed to do it TOGETHER (1 Corinthians 12:25, 1 Peter 3:8-9). With our mission, our focus and purpose ahead of us, we are to consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24,25).
*Bibliography of all references available separately, but all historical information is generally available just about everywhere.